Last week, my friend Celia introduced me to Silverplate, a community school in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi’s northeast. The principal, Lucas, established the school when he realised that children were picking through the nearby dumping ground to find goods to sell rather than getting an education.
Lucas is amazing, as are all the teachers who work at Silverplate. The salary Lucas can afford to pay the teachers is very little, and in December, just before Christmas, there was no money to pay the teachers at all. Yet they are all back this year with all the passion and enthusiasm needed to teach dozens of primary school-aged students. One of the things that really impressed me about the teachers was their immaculate presentation. Despite the fact they are teaching in a small community school with little facilities and leaky roofs for little or no money, they are dressed in impeccable suits. Even their shoes are clean despite probably having had to walk along dirt paths to get to school. To me, it illustrated the pride they have in their jobs and they are dedicated to educating these children not just in maths and English, but also in how to conduct oneself regardless of your station in life.
Currently there are 380 students and 11 teachers. That ratio isn’t bad for an African school …. until you see the size of the classrooms. Desks that look like they should accommodate two (or three at a stretch) students, seat four, five and even six students in the younger classes. The school caters for students from nursery to class 7, but there are not enough classrooms. So the class 7s and 6s share a room, 5s and 4s share, 3s and 2s, 1s and preps, then the number of nursery students means they have their own room.
Most of the classrooms are in a concrete building, except for the class 2 and 3s who are in a tin shack. Although they do have more space (about twice what all the other classes have), the roof has holes in it. While I was visiting, we were “blessed” with some rain, and lessons had to stop in that classroom as students huddled under the sealed patches of roof. The best building on site is the toilet block. When Silverplate was first established, the children just had to go in the bushes behind the classrooms. But a group of Irish visitors pledged to build a toilet block and now that is what dominates the school. It is clean and encourages good hygiene and has been a very important contribution.
Lucas introduced me to every class and I was greeted with songs and clapping and general happiness. With the class 6 and 7s a map was retrieved and students were asked to identify where Australia was. They got it. The older classes who can speak English asked plenty of questions about Australia and how it is different to Kenya. Some very intelligent questions came from the students, which seemed somehow incongruous with the environment … but definitely proved that Lucas and his team are doing great things!
Silverplate charges 200 Kenyan shillings per month for a child’s education, which is approximately US$2.50. Recently they introduced a school uniform – uniforms are very important in Kenya’s education system and some schools will even turn away students who cannot afford the uniform …. but that’s a whole different rant for another posting about inconsistencies in the approach to education. The uniform at Silverplate costs 1000 shillings (approximately US$11.50), but Lucas understands that for some parents this is beyond their means so he is flexible. Nearly every student however was wearing the uniform, but whether it was because Lucas donates uniforms to those who cannot afford it, I’m not sure.
The school fees again seem like such a small amount, but still parents or guardians cannot afford to pay. Many of the students at Silverplate are orphans and so they are looked after by guardians. The only problem is that guardians do not have the same interests of the foster child in their heart as those interests of their own children. And so the foster children are often neglected. Instead of spending money on a foster child’s education, the guardian would rather that child earn money for his keep. So they are either kept at home doing chores (fetching water, wood, preparing meals, cleaning the house, looking after the babies, etc) or sent to the dumping ground to find items to sell to earn money. This is beyond the pale for Lucas, as he values education above all else. His mission is for every child to have an education no matter what and so many of the students do not pay to attend Silverplate. He would prefer to give free education than have a child miss out.
At school the children receive lunch as well, the cost of the food is supposed to be covered by the school fees. Many community schools in Kenya have a similar feeding program, ensuring children get at least one meal per day. And the generosity was overwhelming – Celia and I were invited to eat with them as well. That is Kenyan hospitality and it’s impossible to refuse.
Lucas has plans. This year he is going to work with the hospital to get free medical treatment for the students and their parents. He is requesting doctors to volunteer their time to take care of people in his school’s community. He is also working with Celia to develop peace building programs in the community. With the upcoming elections, the slums are the most likely places for tension to explode, so building a sense of harmonious community spirit is very important. Lucas is looking beyond just providing education to a few poor children; rather he wants to empower and bring together the whole community through education, health, and other programs so they can support one another in times of need.
Next week will be the third week of school. To my untrained eye, the classrooms looked full enough already, but Lucas assures me there are still more students who have not yet come back after the Christmas break. So next week we will find him at the dumping ground, seeking out his students, both old and new.
If you would like to contribute to Silverplate School, please contact me at email@example.com and I will connect you with Lucas. Thank you!